Survivor is taking its social experiment concept to a new level in Season 28, dividing the 18 contestants into three tribes — Brawn, Brains and Beauty — based on the quality they use most in their daily lives. The decision to divide the players as such was made after the cast of Survivor: Cagayan had already been selected and producers noticed that most fell neatly into categories, according to host Jeff Probst.
"The question it poses is, which of these qualities is the most important? And can you get by with only one of these, or do you need a blend of all three?" Probst tells TVGuide.com. "Because when you look at Survivor, you certainly need brawn. You have to be able to endure elements alone, let alone competing in challenges. And then when you look at the Brain tribe, strategically, if you don't understand chess and how to make moves and how to make alliances, or how to solve a puzzle, you're dead in the game. And what the Beauty tribe typically has is, they're very good at using their physical appearance to get into a group and more importantly, stay in that group. Because often, if you're attractive and pleasant, people are less likely to be annoyed by you."
Fall TV Scorecard: What's renewed? What's canceled?
The Brawn tribe includes cops and former NBA player Cliff Robinson, the Brains have an average IQ of 130, and the Beauties are made up of mostly current and former models and beauty pageant contestants. And none of the cast members were surprised about which groups they were assigned to, Probst says. "It's amazing how quickly people say, 'Yep, that's right,'" according to Probst. "These labels that we put on ourselves are really powerful."
Also powerful was each tribe's assessment of the others — but contestants learned quickly not to make assumptions about their competitors.
"Going into it, I would say the Beauty tribe was probably the most judged, for obvious reasons," Probst admits. "I think both Brawn and Brains looked at them and thought, OK, pretty pageant queens. Yay, male model. We're gonna kick your ass. Maybe. Or maybe [the Beauty tribe] works together better than the Brawn or the Brains tribe, because we've utilized our looks and our physical appearance to get into groups. Therefore, we've been in groups a lot more, and we really function well together because we all get it. Let's find out."
Quiz: Which celebrity is older?
Still, while the Beauty tribe may arguably have a leg up socially, aren't the Brains and Brawn tribes at a distinct advantage in the game thanks to the challenges (the vast majority of which incorporate physical activity and/or puzzles)? Not the case, according to Probst. "We've all watched Survivor long enough to know, that's just not usually how it goes," Probst says. "Because there's this other thing called humanity which comes into play, and our human nature. Suddenly, the most unpredictable things are happening because humans are unpredictable."
Check out Probst's breakdown of the key players on each tribe — and meet the cast in the video below:
Cliff Robinson: "What's fun about having Cliff is that, much like Jeff Kent or Jimmy Johnson, you have a guy whose background is professional sports," Probst says of the former NBA player. "So you know that their competitive nature is going to be in full bloom. But the other asset Cliff brings is the experience of being in high pressure situations, which should allow him to help calm his tribe down before a challenge."
Tony Vlachos: Don't be deceived by appearances when it comes to this cop from New Jersey, according to Probst. "He's a big guy. He's strong, he's got tattoos. He's got a shaved head," Probst explains. "You look at him and at first you might say, 'Aren't you the guy the cops should be keeping us safe from?'" But part of Tony's strategy in the game is keeping his day job a secret. "In Tony's world, lying? Not a problem," according to Probst. "Tony would just keep everybody at arm's length. And for some people, if you can lie really well and can adapt very quickly, it's a good strategy. I'm always amazed that people don't lie more. I get blown away when people come out and say, 'Yeah, I have four houses and $5 million in the bank.'"
TV characters that need to die
Sarah Lacina: Also a police officer, Sarah nearly blows Tony's cover right off the bat. "She's a cop from the Midwest. And she sees Tony and immediately says in a conspiratorial tone in the jungle, 'I'm a cop, and I know you're a cop,' and Tony doesn't miss a beat. He goes, 'What are you talking about? I work construction.'" Probst says. "That's the epitome of Survivor. People from different walks of life trying to play this game together, where the only rules are the rules you make."
Garrett Adelstein: Though he's a jack-of-all-trades who could have fit in on any tribe, the producers opted to put him with the other Brains because of his day job, Probst explains. "In his profession, which is a professional poker player, the quality that he relies on most in his life is his brain. Strategy," the host says.
Kassandra "Kass" McQuellan: "She's an attorney who has never lost a case, and she's very proud of that," Probst teases. But while Kass is great at reading people and making smart decisions, she faces some new challenges on Survivor. "On paper, she'd do very well at this game," Probst says. "But when the rain comes and your shelter's leaking and suddenly you're not comfortable and you start to lose your mind and all these great ideas go out the window, that's that intangible element of Survivor. It's so easy to play when you're at home watching on the couch, and it's another thing entirely when it's raining for the third straight day and all you're asking yourself is, why did I say yes to this?"
TV shows we're losing this year
Alexis Maxwell: Alexis, a Northwestern alum, is another contestant that would also have been at home on the Brains tribe, but mostly uses her appearance to her advantage. "She clearly is a smart young woman," Probst says. "But in talking to her, it was clear that she utilizes her looks more than anything to get doors to open. ... If she can flirt with a guy and that'll help her get a foot in somewhere, [she's] happy to do it."
Morgan McLeod: Though viewers might be turned off by their introduction to Morgan, in which she says she's not surprised she wound up on the Beauties tribe, Probst has a soft spot for the former NFL cheerleader. "You just can't help but laugh," Probst says. "Here's a young girl who has been told her entire life, 'You're beautiful,' and she says, 'So I know I am. This isn't a big shock.' But what happens in the first few days is Morgan gets a taste of how quickly this game can turn on its head. And then you get to see what other qualities she has. In addition to being beautiful, can you think quickly on your feet? Because if not, you're going to be in trouble fast."
Meet the rest of the castaways in the video below:
Survivor premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)